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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One in Ten Students View School as a Place of Violence

Ensuring a safe learning environment for every student at school is a major responsibility of educators, school administrators, and policy makers in our society. Although the statistics show that the number of violent crimes at school has declined since the early 1990s (DeVoe, Peter, Miller, Snyder, & Baum, 2004; DeVoe, Peter, Noonan, Snyder, & Baum, 2005; Dinkes, Cataldi, Kena, & Baum, 2006), students’ fear of school violence has not proportionally declined since the late 1980s (DeVoe et al., 2005; Lawrence & Mueller, 2003; Small & Terick, 2001). One out of ten 15-year-olds thinks of school as a place where someone will attack or harm them. Studies have shown that students who fear violence are most likely to bring a gun to school (Chandler, Chapman, Rand, & Taylor, 1998; Vacha & McLaughlin, 2000), which would further increase the level of fear among other students in the school environment. Student fear, therefore, is a policy issue that requires attention and a systematic investigation. Indeed, it is a global phenomenon that educators around the world have struggled with as a major barrier to effective student learning.

Students’ fear of being victimized by school violence affects their school attendance, learning motivation, and academic achievement (Bowen & Bowen, 1999; Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000; Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Toblin, 2005). Although criminologists have uncovered individual and community predictors of fear of crimes among adults, our knowledge base on school characteristics associated with students’ fear of school violence is still limited (Gainey & Seyfrit, 2001; Hale, 1996; May & Dunaway, 2000). Many U.S. studies identified that victims of bullying and peer harassment are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidality, and low self-esteem (Graham & Juvonen, 1998; Klomek, Marrocco, Kleinman, Schonfeld, & Gould, 2007; Poteat & Espelage, 2007). Fear of school violence may be part of these characteristics of bullying victims. However, none of these studies has investigated what school characteristics predict the level of fear or anxiety among students.  

An investigation of individual characteristics of students who fear school violence provides useful information for school administrators to identify who needs to be assured a safe learning environment. Furthermore, an analysis of school factors associated with students’ fear will inform policy makers and administrators regarding which school characteristics need to be improved to create a safe learning environment for students. Although a series of school shootings reported by the media has heightened fear among the general public, and many studies have been conducted on school shootings (Burns & Crawford, 1999; Fox & Harding, 2005; Lawrence & Mueller, 2003; Newman, Fox, Harding, Mehta, & Roth, 2004; Webber, 2003), statistics show that school shootings are still rare incidents (DeVoe et al., 2005). However, the focus of students’ day-to-day fear caused by widespread behaviors at school such as bullying and physical violence needs to be explored.

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